What a second half from Syracuse. The last stretch of the first half was one of the worst stretches of basketball the Orange have played all season, but they regrouped and came out of the locker room with a mindset and executed it. Early second-half substitutions by Adrian Autry proved to be the difference, and potentially the best games of their careers for Quadir Copeland (who led the team with 22 points along with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals) and Benny Williams (15 points and 7 rebounds). After two games in a row where the bench combined for over 40 points, they went for 52 today as Copeland, Williams, and Maliq Brown (who had 15). A really impressive performance from those guys, complimented by Mintz and Starling to get SU back to .500 in ACC play and 10-3 overall. Let’s check the report card:
Adrian Autry: B+
Autry did what he usually does, substitute early and often to match the pace that Pittsburgh was playing with. Copeland, Brown, and Williams brought early energy off the bench and that group continues to gel. Schematically, it felt like there were times that the offense had no direction or idea of what it was doing, and there were some defensive lapses, but that was more effort than anything else. Rebounding was a major issue, and with McLeod not getting a lot of minutes because of his deficiencies defending on the perimeter, that hurt. A lot of these things are hard to control as the coach, but that passion to play hard on every possession and do the dirty work has to come from the head coach. Getting that technical at the end of the first half showed how frustrated he was with the officiating, after a lot of interesting calls throughout the half. Making early substitutions in the second half by getting Brown, Copeland, and Williams back in the game instantly changed the momentum and got Syracuse a lead over five minutes into the second period after being down eight at the break. He also did a good job of keeping Pitt on its toes by going to zone on baseline-out-of-bounds plays, which at times forced bad shots.
Judah Mintz: C-
Especially in the first half, Mintz started strong with a couple of buckets but just was sloppy on both ends as it progressed. He turned the ball over multiple times, wasn’t finding teammates, and committed silly gambles on defense that gave Pitt an edge on the other end. He forced some shots and did not do a great job of working the offense throughout the first half. That theme continued into the second half, as he forced shots, could not beat guys off the dribble, and did not make winning plays. Then, as momentum started to swing towards Syracuse, he got more engaged by rotating defensively, pushing the pace, and finally seeing the ball go through the net. He still was not great, didn’t make winning plays, and complained to the officials and his coaches way too much.
J.J. Starling: B
He also started the game strong but was not as much of a factor beyond that in the first period. His finishing ability, especially with the right hand on either side of the basket from any angle with tight or drop coverage is very impressive, but SU needs more offense from him consistently because of shooting struggles from the outside, a season-long issue. He was pretty quiet as Syracuse made its run to start the second half, but that isn’t the worst thing in the world. He did hit a massive three with six and a half minutes to go in transition to keep Pitt at bay and put the Orange up four, and then get to the hoop on the next possession to boost the lead.
Chris Bell: D
If he is not hitting shots, there might not be a reason for him to play. He doesn’t offer much defensively, he doesn’t rebound, and in a physical game especially, it’s a bad matchup. It’s important to have his shooting threat out there, but at a certain point you need rebounding and defense on the floor, and Williams was doing a much better job of that than him, especially in the first half. There was a particular play early in the second half where he did not dive on the floor for a loose ball and that led to a Pitt 3 to go up 11, something that will not please his head coach.
Justin Taylor: C
Taylor is just out there doing the dirty work, rebounding, defending the best players on the other team, and not a whole lot offensively. He doesn’t have the speed to blow by anyone, and his relocation was not great because the spacing on the floor was bad because of the Orange’s inability to shoot. His value is defensively and rebounding so he will get his minutes, but there was not much to be excited about.
Naheem McLeod: B-
The big man came out firing to open the game, he played the first seven minutes, blocked three shots, and stole another pass. There was a clear emphasis on getting him the ball, but he just doesn’t have the skill set to get a pass and go up, let alone put the ball on the floor. It is good to try and get him involved and boost his confidence, it just did not work in the first half especially. The second half was more of the same, as Pitt put him in two ball screens and he couldn’t recover to an open shooter. Just not his game.
Maliq Brown: A
The backup big came in for McLeod and played the rest of the first half, doing what the starter could not, finish at the rim and rebound. He had a couple of steals, which are increasingly becoming a normal thing that he’ll just poke the ball away at the top of the key and start a fast break. His impact is one of the biggest on the team despite being undersized, especially against a Pitt team that can throw a lot of bodies at you. His positioning continues to improve as well as he is doing a much better job of sealing defenders and taking advantage of mismatches.
Quadir Copeland: B+
He hit the Orange’s only three of the first half (a four-point play), had a couple of nice passes, and played good defense but also picked up two fouls, and forced a couple of tough shots. Overall, his impact is still very evident and when he is on the floor the Orange play with better pace and energy. He and Brown’s willingness to dive on the floor for loose balls is vital to SU’s ability to turn their opponent over, something Pitt did 10 times in the first half. He also needs to work on his free throw shooting because with the amount he gets in the paint, being above average at the foul line is essential. He just never fails to make the spectacular play and did so throughout the second half. He improved at the line, made acrobatic layups, and found his teammates all while playing great defense against Pitt’s best player, Blake Hinson. What a player.
Benny Williams: A
Our final grade goes out to Williams, who in eight first-half minutes scored a couple of buckets, rebounded the ball, played physical, and did what he was asked. He did turn the ball over a couple of times, but he is trying to play his role, and that is all you can ask for. Syracuse needs a big, lanky, physical forward to compliment Maliq Brown when he is playing center, and if Williams can fill that role, that is a huge bonus. He continued that in the second half, as he skied for a rebound and threw an outlet pass to Copeland to set up a fast break, that’s the type of play that will earn Williams more minutes. He also just simply needs to get better at the foul line where he is 8/15 (just over 50%) on the year. He is the most athletic player on the court most of the time, and now we are finally starting to see what that means in important settings.